Foreign Language Budget Cuts Harm the National Interest

I was asked to write a short piece on a foreign policy topic of my interest. As a recent Georgetown College Faculty of Language and Linguistics graduate who double majored in two modern languages, recent budget cuts wiping out the already relatively meager foreign language funding is an issue close to my heart. These cuts not only deeply sadden me, they also scare me.

Few would deny that our economy needs fixing. This can be literally seen in some places. For example, there is a billboard visible from the Chicago blue line soon after the train leaves O’Hare International Airport. It reads, “Welcome Back. Illinois is still broke.” Clearly, no one new would seek an opportunity here, so welcome back, and thanks for the report on the unchanged status quo. There really is no place like home. I understand that it may be ironic for someone to pay for this billboard. But, perhaps it is trying to make $2.25 CTA fare-paying riders contemplate not only where they are going, but where their state is headed, too. I wish our national government also made such considerations. I wish I could understand them better.

Foreign language budget reductions, like cutting the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Programs, put at risk more than our nation’s potential to prepare the country’s best and brightest to win hearts and minds. They hinder (in this case PhD level) students' ability to conduct original research. In our dynamic and increasingly globalized world, it is essential we stay current on changes elsewhere, everywhere. Effective cross-cultural communication and understanding are key skills needed for business negotiations and diplomacy alike.

It is common knowledge that we are trending towards an ever increasing globalized world. With the recent uprisings in the Middle East, I would have thought our country would be particularly keen on fostering the development of competent people to guide policy with a knowledge of history, culture, and language.

In the Far East, too, what will become of future trade and national interests if fewer Americans are able to truly understand the region and speak the language? These so-called soft-science skills hold long-term importance. Throwing funding at these languages early is the only way to teach students how to speak them.

Slashing funding, by contrast, can leave irreparable gaps. Is this really what we want as a country for students who say they are interested in a “critical language”? What is the plan if new, unforeseen regions, languages, and histories suddenly become relevant?

We used to consider all places on the map. I guess we will just hope for the best.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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